As football season kicks off in a matter of days, the NFL upheld its decision Wednesday to suspend Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Josh Gordon for a year after he failed a marijuana test. Yes, an entire year, and he also is banned from participating in any Browns activities. If that seems extreme considering that very drug is now legal in several states, you aren’t alone. Sports writers and fans rallied on social media on Gordon’s behalf. Naturally, the hashtag #freejoshgordon soon trended.
Gordon’s punishment stands in stark contrast to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s in July. Rice was captured on surveillance video in February dragging his unconscious then-fiancee Janay Palmer from an Atlantic City hotel elevator. He was accused of knocking her out during an altercation. Yeah, that’s called domestic abuse – a way worse offense that smoking some weed.
However, Rice received only a two-game suspension in July. Palmer, for whatever questionable reason, went on to marry Rice, who pleaded not guilty to assault charges and applied for New Jersey’s pretrial intervention program.
At the time, Rice’s attorney said, “There was a disagreement between him and his wife. He made a mistake. He loves Janay and wants to move forward. This was a momentary lapse of reason.”
Wow, you don’t say. Or is it just the start of a pattern of behavior that could very likely happen again?
On Wednesday, it became clear that the NFL cares a lot more about drug usage than men beating up on women. Granted, Gordon is no innocent when it comes to drugs and alcohol. He had issues with both during his college playing days. Last season, he had a drug violation. Last month, he had an arrest for driving while intoxicated. In May, during a traffic stop, a passenger in his car was charged with marijuana possession. Does he need some help? Yes, probably. Then again, he’s a 23-year-old football star making millions, and he very likely will grow out of this rebellion.
Still, Gordon’s punishment is flat-out extreme compared to Rice’s.
Millions of men are obsessed with football. They worship the sport like it’s a religion, studying statistics as if they are scholars seeking doctorate degrees. The inexplicable punishments that the NFL are dishing out these days send a message to those men that it’s okay to behave like a caveman toward your woman as long as you promise to seek help like Rice. But don’t smoke pot. Really, don’t.
Some sports writers and fans are calling for the NFL to revise its drug policy rules – probably a smart move as the chants to make marijuana legal in this country become louder. Earlier this month, it was reported that NFL is considering stronger penalties in domestic violence cases. According to an article in The Washington Post, a first offense of domestic violence by a player would receive a four- to six-game suspension. A second offense may land a player a possible one-year ban.
That’s good news, but will it happen? It should. Women – many who are also fans of professional football – deserve this from North America’s most popular sports league. To make this happen, we – even if we aren’t football crazy – should rally the NFL to make sure it does.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.